Three outstanding entrepreneurs have been chosen by serial entrepreneur Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou for the final of the 2012 Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs, a competition run by the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation and the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability.
The disabled entrepreneurs – John Charles, James King and David Hawkins- saw off tough competition to make it to the final three for the prestigious award, which has been running for five years and recognises the achievements and unique challenges faced by disabled entrepreneurs.
The winner of the 2012 Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs in the UK will receive a £50,000 prize – the largest cash sum of its kind – at a special awards ceremony to be held in Londonon 3 December.
The finalists (in alphabetical order) are:
John Charles, 40, who is registered blind, runs Catering2order, a contract catering firm which now employs 20 people.
He says: “As a disabled entrepreneur I have had to face a number of hurdles. I was once told that because of my disability my future job prospects would be best suited to factory assembly work. But I refused to accept this narrow view and I knew I could do more. I decided to start my own company and employ myself. This was my greatest challenge; although every high street bank I approached for start-up capital gave me extremely positive feedback on my business plan, they always classed me as ‘too risky’ and turned down my applications. I found that these comments only served to motivate me even more.”
David Hawkins, 56, who is paraplegic, runs Cyclone Technologies, a company which supplies wheelchairs and fitness equipment to disabled people in the UK, USA and Europe. Their products include bespoke, lightweight wheelchairs, accessible gym equipment, Functional Electrical Stimulation equipment (designed for people with spinal injuries) and mobility devices for people with severe walking impairments.
He says: “I used to work in building and joinery, but after becoming paraplegic I had to move away from my original career path and retrain myself completely. I had to develop skills and knowledge of an industry which I had no previous experience.
“One advantage of running a business aimed at other disabled people is that I have found I can empathise with my customers. I am at an advantage when I am choosing products and demonstrating their benefits to potential customers because we have faced similar hurdles.”
James King, 46, who is registered blind, runs Oliver James Garden Rooms, a company which designs and builds garden room extensions which have tiled roofs. Unlike a traditional conservatory, the rooms are warm in winter and cool in summer.
He says: “I have faced many challenges with my eyesight deteriorating but I believe you can always engineer a solution to any difficulty.
“One advantage of my inability to carry out certain tasks is the confidence that comes from knowing when to delegate. This has meant that I work on developing the business and trust my team to carry out the day-to-day work to an excellent standard. I hope that I inspire a good team by not allowing a small detail like my eye condition to get in the way of our business and life goals.”
Sir Stelios says: “I have been really impressed by finalists and I look forward to this year’s ceremony where the overall winner will be revealed.
“I am passionate about encouraging entrepreneurship, and the previous winners of this award offer proof that there are many highly talented disabled entrepreneurs out there.
“With around 50 per cent of disabled adults out of work it is clear that there still is a long way to go. Removing the barriers disabled people face in business is essential, and I hope that the Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs goes some way to highlighting their achievements.”
Clare Pelham,Chief Executive of Leonard Cheshire Disability says: “This year’s award ceremony will fall on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and there could not be a more appropriate time for this occasion. Our finalists are all champions. We are delighted to highlight the contribution that they are making to the British economy. Each one of them is an example of the drive and determination that characterises entrepreneurs; and a particular example to young disabled people of the range of possibilities that lie ahead of them. We should all dare to dream. They have made their dreams real. And we applaud them for that.”
“We are delighted to work with Sir Stelios on an award that celebrates the remarkable achievements of disabled entrepreneurs.”
About Leonard Cheshire Disability
Leonard Cheshire Disability is one of the UK’s largest voluntary sector providers of services to disabled people, support thousands of people with physical and learning disabilities in theUK and we work withCheshire partner organisations in 54 countries around the world. Visit www.LCDisability.org for more information.
About The Stelios Philanthropic Foundation
The Stelios Philanthropic Foundation is committed to dynamic philanthropy: making a positive, exponential difference through funding, inspiring and advising educational, entrepreneurial and environmental initiatives. To find out more visit www.stelios.com